France and the persistence of public order -

France and the persistence of public order


Happy (belated) Bastille Day, everyone. While the philosophy community is celebrating (or not) the arrival of Derek Parfit’s long-awaited two-volume work on ethics, I’ve been plowing my way through the first volume of Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order. The basic question he’s trying to answer is how any society ever made the transition from a tribal society to a modern state. It starts with chimpanzee politics, moves quickly to the state of nature and then on status seeking, so it’s basically the perfect book, thematically. I’m going to write a proper review of it soon, but one passage I came across last night was particularly interesting: it is about the particular character of the French state, pre-revolution:

While England developed an advanced theory of public finance and optimal taxation, elucidated in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, French taxation was opportunistic and dysfunctional… Most important, the French fiscal system deliberately encouraged rent-seeking. Wealthy individuals, instead of investing their money in productive assets in the private economy, spent their fortunes on heritable offices that could not create but only redistribute wealth. Rather than focusing on technological innovation, they innovated with regard to new ways of outwitting the state and its tax system. This weakened private entrepreneurship and made its emerging private sector dependent on state largesse, just at the same moment that private markets were blossoming across the English channel.

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France and the persistence of public order

  1. Potter:

    Read Daily Telegraph article a couple of days ago. Big differences in economic systems between Protestant and Catholic countries. 

    Daily Telegraph:

    “Even with an asking price of £35 million, there will be no shortage of buyers for Cliveden, the Buckinghamshire palazzo that went on the market last week …. How things have changed for the country house. Half a century ago, the institution looked in terminal decline: between 1945 and 1974, 250 were demolished …. But what is it that makes English country houses so special, and so distinctive? The roots lie in the Reformation ….. While French nobles gathered around the Paris court, country estates remained at the heart of the English aristocracy. Grand families in France usually sold the chateau, and hung on to the hôtel particulier in Paris. When their English equivalents downsized, they demolished their London piles rather than sell their country houses … ”

    Hajnal Line:

    More than forty years ago, John Hajnal introduced the notion of an ‘European’ pattern of marriage/ household, characterized by high age at marriage, women and men working as servants before marriage and establishing their own households upon marriage. 

    He called this pattern ‘European’ for brevity, although it applies only to the Northwestern Europe, west of an imaginary line connecting ‘Leningrad’ (Saint Petersburg) to Trieste.

    Interestingly enough, Hajnal’s line followed quite closely the Iron Curtain, then dividing Europe into capitalist and socialist societies.

  2. I am reading this right now too – will be interesting to read your full review